Her whole personality had become, as it were, like jet—clear-cut, black, hard, shining.
“Annette is young,” she said; “so is monsieur le docteur. Between young people things move quickly; but Annette is a good daughter. Ah! what a jewel of a nature!”
The least little smile twisted Soames’ lips.
“Nothing definite, then?”
“But definite—no, indeed! The young man is veree nice, but—what would you? There is no money at present.”
She raised her willow-patterned tea-cup; Soames did the same. Their eyes met.
“I am a married man,” he said, “living apart from my wife for many years. I am seeking to divorce her.”
Madame Lamotte put down her cup. Indeed! What tragic things there were! The entire absence of sentiment in her inspired a queer species of contempt in Soames.
“I am a rich man,” he added, fully conscious that the remark was not in good taste. “It is useless to say more at present, but I think you understand.”
Madame’s eyes, so open that the whites showed above them, looked at him very straight.
“Ah! ca—mais nous avons le temps!” was all she said. “Another little cup?” Soames refused, and, taking his leave, walked westward.
He had got that off his mind; she would not let Annette commit herself with that cheerful young ass until....! But what chance of his ever being able to say: ‘I’m free.’ What chance? The future had lost all semblance of reality. He felt like a fly, entangled in cobweb filaments, watching the desirable freedom of the air with pitiful eyes.
He was short of exercise, and wandered on to Kensington Gardens, and down Queen’s Gate towards Chelsea. Perhaps she had gone back to her flat. That at all events he could find out. For since that last and most ignominious repulse his wounded self-respect had taken refuge again in the feeling that she must have a lover. He arrived before the little Mansions at the dinner-hour. No need to enquire! A grey-haired lady was watering the flower-boxes in her window. It was evidently let. And he walked slowly past again, along the river—an evening of clear, quiet beauty, all harmony and comfort, except within his heart.
On the afternoon that Soames crossed to France a cablegram was received by Jolyon at Robin Hill:
“Your son down with enteric no immediate danger will cable again.”
It reached a household already agitated by the imminent departure of June, whose berth was booked for the following day. She was, indeed, in the act of confiding Eric Cobbley and his family to her father’s care when the message arrived.